So for those not aware, Warlord Games recently released Samurai miniatures game called Test of Honour. I read through these rules a couple weeks ago when the preview first because available and was pleasantly surprised. I held off posting a review because I hoped that the "missing" rules would be available in the coming weeks and/or some other concerns would be elevated when it launched. As I will get to, those concerns still exist but I still think this rule set deserves some attention. At least it seems so to me, as I (also) love this genre.
This review will have some holes though, as there is content for the game that is not available for free. In fact, only the Main rules are free, the Battle Guide and various "cards" are not. You can find the rules over at the Warlord Games site.
Scale of Game & List Building:
Sadly I am really not sure. For list building, the main rules say to refer the scenario being played in the Battle Guide for recruiting rules. Which is fair enough and potentially interesting that game size could vary scenario by scenario, potentially even asymmetrically. The description on the website claims a small skirmish game of 5-20 models, although this seems opposed to how the game is packaged (most commoner boxes are 10 models each, shouldn't this really be 3 or 6 if the game size target is 5-20 models, and you mutli-base commoners in groups of 3?).
It should be noted too, and I think has been stated by Warlord Games, that this is not really a game of Samurai vs Samurai. It seems to be a game of 1-2 Samurai leading a small band of more common troop types. No real issue to me, I only point this out as it may matter to some.
Building on the typical Warlord activation mechanic from Bolt Action (pulling dice from a bag), Test of Honor tweaks it slightly. Instead of dice, it uses tokens where samurai are denoted with a different token than commoners. Additionally 3 fate tokens are added to the bag. Note, there are not separate tokens for each side.
The commoner vs samurai token distinction is made because commoners can only make 1 action per turn, whereas samurai can make 2-3 actions per turn (notice I didn't say per activation!). And of course, commoner tokens must be assigned to commoners and samurai tokens to samurai. You assign the token to a model(s) and complete its action. If the number of tokens is less than the number of actions it can take, then they can activate again later that turn.
After the action is completed, the next player draws a token and makes his action. The turn ends when the 3rd fate token is drawn (whoever draws the 3rd fate token then gets to draw first the next turn). It appears there is no other use for the fate tokens and drawing the 1st/2nd one results basically a "pass."
So you have a mostly (due to the fate token "pass" above) alternating activation system, that limits who exactly you can activate each time, spreads the activation of multiple activation models across the entire turn and the turn length is unpredictable. Seems pretty interesting to me, although I am sure some will not like it.
Ability test, such as Test of Aim or Test of Wits, are fairly simply. Roll the number of appropriate special dice, specified by the model. The dice are made up of swords (1 and 2 quantity), blanks and X's. If you have 3 or more swords, the test success unless there are more X's than swords (X's and blanks do not cancel out any swords). There are modifiers that can add or subtract dice from the pool but unfortunately these are scattered throughout the rules.
Melee is handled in a similar manner with a couple of interesting twists. A Test of Aim is conducted, if successful and the target of a melee attack has an action available then it MUST avoid. Avoid requires a Test of Agility and if it succeeds the attack is negated, if it fails or if the target has no actions available the attack lands. Note, if the target attempts to avoid, remove the appropriate token from the bag and place it on the model/card. Moving from there to the damage step requires a Test of Strength: failure is a light wound (< 3 swords), success is a heavy wound (removing the model).
The second twist is triggering weapon bonuses (or fumbles, doh!). If on a strike, avoid or damage you pass with 5 or more swords you can trigger a weapon specific bonus. These have a variety of affects but add a great deal of flavor. I hope the details are captured on the back of the model cards to avoid constant referencing (but to be honest its not terribly burdensome, I think. Maybe). If you roll more X's than swords, the you fumble depending on the type of roll (strike, avoid or damage).
Everything else, presented in the main rules, is fairly typical. There is morale, some rules for groups of ashigaru/commoners, terrain, movement, typical actions, etc. Nothing else really special to note nor to poke at.
The main rulebook is nicely represented and flows very nicely. At 16 pages total, and really the rules only make up about 8-10 of those, it seems like a fairly concise set of rules. It lacks a table of contents or an index but at that few pages is it really necessary? All that being said though, it is really crying out for a cheat sheet to gather all the modifiers, weapon bonuses/fumbles & descriptions, and actions into one place. Not a big deal but it would be nice if it was already done for people esp for the starter box.
I would have liked to see some uses for the Fate tokens other than the end of the turn. Perhaps to trigger a special ability or allow a reroll. Just seems like a missed opportunity there.
Also, for me, I wish there was some "fantastical" element to the game. As a Warlord Games' game, I knew going in this was probably not going to be the case. But my love of the Samurai genre stems from Legends of the Five Rings, so ultimately I really want something that provides that kind of fantastical element as well.
Maybe I missed it, but I really think having samurai near ashigaru should have some kind of benefit. I would hope that this is at least the case morale but I don't feel like going back to check. Even if it does confer a bonus for morale, I think I would still like to see more. Or at least variety.
As I hinted in the beginning, there a few things that worked out differently than I had hoped. I am extremely disappointed in how this game is being packaged:
- The complete rules (ie, getting the Battle Guide) requires a $50 buy in of the starter box. Additionally, I have to go this route to get the skill cards, injury cards, dishonour cards and upgrade cards.
- The "expansions" also introduce additional cards. So I have to buy the Ronin expansion just to get a particular card I want, even though I don't want to field Ronin? Ugh.
- The packaging of the expansions makes no sense to the scale of the game, IMO. Why do I want 10x commoners when the game scale is 5-20 models total and I group commoners into 3s? I mean, I know why they are in packs of 10 (for people wanting the mins for mass battles) but it still irks me that I would have to buy more than I would need. Reminds me of some of the packaging BS Games Workshop used to do (maybe still do).
Also I realize a model company wants to promote model sales but I really would have preferred not being locked into Warlord Game models. Yes, I could still technical choose to use other models but I would still have to buy Warlord Game models just to get stupid upgrade cards and stuff. Hell, I can't even get the "full" rules without buying a $50 starter box with 35 Warlord Game models in it. And because of the expansion box stuff, that is not even the "full" rules.
Having to buy Warlord Games models also irks me because I have never been impressed with their "organic" models (tanks/vehicles seem like they are nice, people not so much). Right now, without having seen them, I going to say that I don't want them. Esp if these are just the old Wargames Factory samurai models. And even if they are pretty good, I have had my eyes set on several other lines of samurai miniatures I would still want to own before these.
Lastly, this game appears to be very lethal. And realistically that is how it should be. Samurai swinging katana's were extremely lethal, as was most melee combat. I just worry that for a skirmish sized game, the lethality may cause some very large game swings and that may ultimately make, or contribute to, it not being a satisfying experience. Realism does not always make compelling game play.
Test of Honour looks to be a pretty interesting ruleset. I was very surprised by it. I personal thought, as I know others did too, Warlord was just "slapping" some rules together because they had a bunch of Samurai models from their acquisition of the Wargames Factory line of samurai. But it really appears some quality work went into the rules development. I really hope they are doing some demos of this game at Adepticon.
My irritation is that, IMO, someone royally screwed up a decent game later in the process. To me this could have really appealed to the Saga or Bolt Action crowd. But I don't see them buying into this packaging BS.
Oh well. Maybe soon I will revisit the Torii and/or Ronin rulesets. Btw, those defunct "Windmills" links to the left. This is what they are supposed to be about. Questing to find a good/desirable ruleset/miniatures/games/projects/terrain for those genres. I would go ahead and link this review into that windmill but since this is the only one that would be in it, seems pointless right now.
Adding this to the list of games of this genre: Samurai Skirmish